Julita Wójcik answers Culture.pl’s questions about the Rainbow.
Culture.pl: What was the initial idea behind the Rainbow?
How did the Rainbow inscribe itself within the context of the former monastery in Wigry?
The Rainbow was supposed to support the old walls of the monastery. The year 2010 had been a decisive one for the future fate of the House for Creative Work. The former monastery complex, which had been rebuilt in the 1970s and 80s, was in urgent need of renovation and maintenance work, whole layers of plaster were coming off the buildings’ walls. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage was trying to reach an agreement with the local curia as to the way of conducting these works as well as their funding. The rainbow was a symbolic support for these crumbling walls. But first and foremost it was a show of sympathy and support for the further activities of the House for Creative Work. Throughout the period when Agnieszka Tarasiuk was leading the centre, it became an excellent place which promulgated culture in a completely remote area of Poland, literally at its borderlands. The house conducted educational activities for local children, and this also constituted a very significant social activity. This is how the later idea of a common building of the Rainbow emerged, with the support of the Artistic Handicraft Cooperative.
Did the Rainbow surprise the people in Wigry, did it seem strange to them, or did it meet with any resistance?
The people who took part in making it were thrilled. People appreciated its multiple meanings, or rather its double meaning. The fact that it is so strongly based in Christian iconography, and yet so strongly connected with the ideals of emancipation and tolerance allowed for multiple interpretations and I also did not disambiguate it on purpose. I left it as a work that is open for its viewers to interpret. The headquarters of the house in Wigry – a former monastery – are also a destination for Catholic pilgrimages. The visits take place because some time ago it was visited by John Paul II. It was one of the ladies who took part in such a pilgrimage who first asked me the question,"Whose is this rainbow? Is it ours or does it belong to those from Equality Parade in Warsaw?”. This was the first signal that the Rainbow would not only connect those who participate in making it, but that it would also divide into "us" and "them”.
Who had the idea of moving the Rainbow to Brussels?
Monika Szewczyk, the director of the Arsenał Gallery in Białystok, first saw it in Wigry. She came to the opening of the Flower Power exhibition. By then she was already the curator of the Fossils and Gardens, exhibition, a part of the cultural programme prepared by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of Poland’s presidency of the EU council. The list of artists which were to take part in the display was already closed, but she liked the Rainbow so much that she proposed to the institute to nonetheless add it to the exhibition. In the autumn we travelled together to look for possible sites. In the reception of our hotel, we bumped into Marta Kucza, who was working there. Marta not only became our personal guide to Brussels but she also took us to Karol Grygolc, a Polish architect who was working for a Flemish architecture office called Omgeving. This was just the kind of a Belgian company that we needed, because the Rainbow from Wigry could not be adapted to the conditions in Brussels. We needed architects who could design the Rainbow anew, in accordance with Belgian principles and construction restrictions. The Fossils and Gardens project was already rather advanced and the Esplanade, where the Rainbow finally found its place, had been reserved for a different work. I looked at a few places, and one of them was the horizon above Brussels. Much like in Wigry, I also wanted to support the historic building that stands on the border between the Place Du Luxembourg and the European Parliament.
Where in Brussels did the Rainbow finally end up?
While we were designing the exhibition, due to technical and financial reasons, some realisations could not be finalised and the place in front of the European Parliament became available. That is where the Rainbow found itself. I was glad, because it was in a square where one can find a plaque that commemorates the work of Simone Veil, who was the first woman to lead the European Parliament and the second female minister in the history of France. As the head of the French ministry of health, she contributed to the liberalisation of abortion law and the availability of contraceptive devices. And the rainbow was also a symbol used by suffragists. But the factor that I placed the strongest emphasis on in Brussels was community, or rather, community work. I created the Artistic Handicraft Cooperative specially for the making of the new Rainbow in Brussels. During the Open resort of the Culture – Off Centre project, which was conducted by the Akuku Sztuka Association, together with the inhabitants of one apartment block in Sopot, we prepared the flowers for the Rainbow in Brussels. It was a Sopot work for the city of Brussels.
How did moving the Rainbow transform its meaning?
In Wigry, the Rainbow constituted wishes of good fortune to the House of Creative Work, and on the square in front of the European Parliament, I wanted to go in the opposite direction. I wanted to remind the European Parliament's politicians that their decisions should become a source of good fortune for the common people of the Union. In accordance with the principle that everyone benefits from common work. Because we often have the impression that the technocrats of the EU live in a bubble, disconnected from everyday reality. As it stood in front of the entrance to the building, which all the MEPs have to pass through, the Rainbow disturbed the "peace" of this square. Many people began gathering there in order to see the Rainbow. It was visible from the side of the Place Du Luxembourg, where city life thrives, in contrast with the emptiness of the administrative area. The guards that watch over the Parliament felt anxious about the constant movement and the amount of people taking photographs of the Rainbow. But that was what it was there for, in order to remind the MEPs who they are working for, as they are usually perfectly isolated there.
What was the Rainbow supposed to signify in Plac Zbawiciela (Saviour Square) in Warsaw?
As it turned out after some time – something completely different and new for the Rainbow, but at the same time something long known to all of us. In November, 2011, during an author meeting in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Wrocław, I said that the Rainbow had a different meaning in Wigry, a different one when it was in the square in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, and yet another meaning would be connected to its presence in the centre of Warsaw. And I did not mean how I interpreted it or how I see it, but how it is and how it would be interpreted by the public. In Wigry, it was something completely surprising, but already then it began to incite questions. In Brussels, it was something completely natural, but so much so that it bordered on indifference. But Warsaw, for anyone with some sense of prediction, could constitute a real test – of what we are like towards each other, not when we are abroad or when we function as guests, but what we are like at home. It turned out that the team of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute thought in a very similar way. In December I received the message that transporting it to Plac Zbawiciela would be possible.
Did the burnings change the meaning of the Rainbow?
I'd be lying if I said they didn't. In Warsaw, it turned out that it was not landing in some kind of artistic antipode, but that it is in the very heart of the country. It became something everyone was aware of. It became a part of the discourse across the entire country. It began to be accused that instead of uniting, it was a source of division within the country. But we know very well that it is not true. It is not the Rainbow that divides, it was a litmus test. It made it visible in public light that there is a part in Polish society which is open for discussion, for otherness, and another part which is conservative, traditionalist, and which has a problem with accepting the presence of people who follow different values. The meaning of the Rainbow in Warsaw made it manifest that we can no longer pretend that we do not have a socially pertinent problem with otherness, with tolerating people that think differently than we do, that follow principles which are not the same as our own. The burning of the Rainbow is an important sign that all members of society must be provided with a sense of safety, that the law should not discriminate against anyone.
Why is the Rainbow going to be relocated?
It is going to be taken down because the temporary permit for its presence on Plac Zbawiciela is running out. The question remains open whether it will ever appear again somewhere else. We should all ask ourselves the question whether in our collective public space we can have works of contemporary art that incite discussion, or whether this space is reserved for commemorating traumatic historic events.
What more can the Rainbow tell us?
From an innocent artistic installation it turned into a serious warning sign. When our society, due to its presence within the EU, starts losing its national homogeneity, the lack of educational activities in favour of tolerance can result in anti-immigrant tensions. It will be then that we will learn to what extent we have dealt with the problems that became manifest with the burnings of the Rainbow.